The sonorous trumpet of an elephant resounded far, far away in the savannah. Ululations of tropical pelicans answered the distant outcry, but were soon swept away by the lukewarm morning breeze. I stood at the top of the hill and overlooked my surroundings. I was young. Strong. King of dawn. Diamonds, shining and sparkling, were what my eyes were searching for. A mission, you see, that my father gave me. His answer to my boiling explorer blood. It was 1854, and he was a banker in London. Favorable fate. Good investments, and in result he accumulated a considerable fortune. Then he heard it. The rumor of diamonds in Southern African mines. Told from mouth to ear from the dry, bleeding lips of the mine workers. Diamonds. Sssh, diamonds. A hiss, a whisper. My father came to know. Africa, son. An ancient and sacred land, where the sunsets burn the horizon to a sea of orange fire. A land of myths and promises. Go to Africa, son, and bring me back the legend. Bring me back the diamonds. I embarked on a ship, a massive monster furrowing through the waves of the Atlantic. The salty sea breeze abandoned me at an African port. Ebony skin, ivory teeth. Sailors, merchants. Miners. Their eyes yellow, bloodshot, sweat and coal mixing on their already carcajou complexions. Sssh, diamonds. The eyes quickly rolled, panicked, mouths opened and closed, tongues licked the dry blood on the lips. The desert. No, the mountains. No, the savannah. Yes, the savannah! Diamonds, in the savannah. Go, master, leave us alone. I hired a guide. An old man, Kaom. His lips were sealed and he barely talked. He packed our bags. Cans of beans, heavy flasks, blankets and nets. Then we were set to go, and endless seemed the days and nights we spent in the great grasslands. Walking. Roaming. Each step dragged forward as if our legs were lead. The thick air inflamed under the clear heavens. Doomed travellers we were, and we never saw the trace of a mine, a diamond. And one morning before dawn I woke up, my eyes drowning in the celestial abyss of the dark blue canopy. I was blinded by its infinity. My heart enraged, I climbed up the nearest hill to be the one looking down. Down to the vast extent of golden grass, down to what I was in search for, down to what I dreamt to lay my eyes on uponâ€” A pink glow. There, I tell you, hidden deep in the tall grasses but nonetheless infiltrating though the strands. I stumbled down the hill, legs flying, heart pounding, falling twice but crawling up to continue my search. And then there I was, parting the tall grasses with the palms of my hands. Then I saw it. Not a diamond, not a crystal, not a ruby. An elephant. Young, tiny, smooth, pink. Asleep, nested in the grasses, back heaving up and down as it rhythmically breathed. Up and down. Gently. It was round, plump, transparent, devoid of any wrinkles or roughness. Big as a piglet, its polished body reflecting the dim light of the sun rising on the other side of the skyline. What do you know? The beast smelled. A delicious scent tickled my nose. Milk. Butter. Cream, sugar, pastry in the oven. Dry grass and a pink elephant. Faded memories with the odor of shooting stars. So sweet, so tender that my heart scented so too. At this moment the sun chose to erupt from its slumber and golden rays rained down the plain, illuminating the elephant, illuminating my heart, my life. That smell. The most beautiful sensation of my life.
I hunched over the elephant and delicately scooped it up. It woke, big glassy ebony eyes looking up at me in surprise. I murmured, caressed it, whispered soft words. The smell had disappeared. The elephant was calm, and rested immobile in my arms. My shoulder was shoved. I turned around, and Kaom stood behind me. His eyes terrorized, his hands trembling. He pointed at the elephant in my bosom, licked his dry lips and spoke with a heavy tongue in his imperfect, fragmented English: Master. No. Beast of ill luck. Disaster. You know this animal, Kaom? Locals know. Pink elephant, yes. Smells. Why did you say it is a beast of ill luck, Kaom? Smells. I know that. How is it ill luck? Elephant smells different. Different person touch, different smell. Never done any good. Put down, Master. Certainly not! There are clearly no diamonds here. I will bring the elephant back. Kaom smiled bitterly. Disapproval sparkled in his eyes. But I had other preoccupations in mind. You said that the elephant will emit a different smell every time a different person touches it? I advanced towards him, arms extended. Touch, I ordered. He shrugged, and reluctanly brushed his finger past the elephant’s back. The beast did not even flinch and continued to be perfectly immobile. Then, a smell. Almonds, honey, and spice. How can it be? I murmured. Kaom shrugged again. I shook my head, and said: Just now, while it was on the ground, it smelled like something…you wouldn’t know, formidable. Butter and cream, undescribable. How could it be, Kaom? And when I touched it it all disapeared. The old man’s gaze became distant. He seemed to look past my shoulder. His wrinkles were deep and his face languorous. The legend is that it is the smell of your other half. Love. But it is all nonsense. Legends. Myths. My eyes met his, and I sustained his long and meaningful glance. He judged, knew it all, his glance fixating me. Do not take the elephant, his eyes said, it is a bad idea. I could not understand why. This was the diamond an ancient land had gifted me. This was the present it beared me. My treasure. I had to keep it. Within a month I was back to London. London! Leaden sky, shivering strangers, cold hard rain and a heartache that lingers. I brought back the elephant. In a cage, quiet, resting, glassy eyes incessantly observing. Pink, faintly glowing. My father was disappointed. But wealth was abundantly flowing in, and he welcomed me back with open arms. I told him about the elephant. He asked me why I brought it back. He asked me what I wanted to do with it. Find a wife, I told him.
A wife. How magic those two words were to me. A wife. My wife. At the time I had always thought that my wife would be Jane. Jane, childhood love. No, Jane, love of times much more ancient than childhood, her face so profound, her heart so deep, her person so divine. Jane, her fingers crossing with mine, as gently as a feather falls. Jane, litting up my forest with her fire. Jane, the one I thought I would marry. Jane came to visit soon after I returned from Africa. Dark curls, milky skin and lacy dress. Armed with a shy smile and some home-baked pastry. Knocked on my apartment door. I opened, and there she was, my Jane. Do you remember, Jane? I opened the door with the smile of an idiot in love. I told you to come in, sit down, you put your basket down on my table and arched your delicate knees to sit gracefully in my little chair. Then, eyes sparkling with laughter, you asked me about Africa. Did the horror start then? Yes, I think it was then that my heart thumped. I thought about the little pink elephant in the little cage. The little quiet pink elephant, locked safely in my room. I could not resist. I motioned you to wait. Ran up the stairs, brought the elephant down. I had dreamt of this moment for so long. Your finger brushing past it, you, my other half, my love, the woman I was going to marry. I dreamt of this moment for so long that it became no longer real, my hands holding the elephant as if it was a phantom that would escapte. So long. So long I dreamt of this moment and it was time to wake up. You shrieked in delight. Proclared the elephant was adorable, extended your hands to carress it. I almost regretted, I wanted to tap your hand back. I was afraid, afraid of odors and afraid of fate. But too late. Your fingertip touched the elephant and it all started. A foul odor. Rotten meat, revolting, fetid, disgusting. The elephant, immobile in my arms. You looked up at me in astonishment. I looked down at you in astonishment. Repulsing, distressing, foul. Rotten meat. My glance escaped yours. I could no longer look at you straight in the eye. Jane, Jane, Jane. My Jane, it was so awful! With a sway of my arm I took the elephant away from your hand. Your eyes told me you did not understand, you were hurt, your arms extended, wide open to reach for me, and for an instant your shadow on the floor of my living room looked like a lugubrious cross. I took one step back. Two. The elephant was still emitting the smell, thick, sickening. Distraught, I dropped the elephant on the floor so much my hands were trembling. It let out a little squeak of pain, then ran away to my inner chambers. I did not explain anything to you. I looked at you as if I saw you for the first time, plain and naked like a newborn. You did not ask me to explain, you excused yourself. You left your basket on the table, you closed the door behind you. Oh, Jane, Jane, Jane. Jane went away. With quick steps and white trembling lips. Who knew I would not see her again before so long? She left her basket on the table. I approached it, lifted the corner of the cloth. Pastries. The odor of foul, rotten meat was still floating in the room. Nauseous, I threw Janeâ€™s basket away. Jane, Jane, childhood love, bruised love. I did not understand. Elephant, Africa, why that smell? Why from Jane? The big glassy eyes looked up at me. I remembered Kaomâ€™s words. The smell of your other half. Love. Sweet, warm milk. Butter. Cream. Pastries. Pastries. Rotten meat. Jane wrote letters. Wounded, I slept little, not finding the strength to lift a pen to reply. Wounded, I lay alone, night wrapped tightly around my throat, me gasping for air, yearning
for Jane’s hand on my forehead. But every time the image of Jane emerged in my mind I could not help but remember the foul smell, the sweat, the sickness. Everytime I turned my head the elephant was behind me, its big glassy eyes staring emptily at me. I remembered Africa. Kaom. I remembered the hill. I was young. Strong. King of dawn. I was a giant. Tied down. No, I was alive, drinking the darkness away. Wounded, wounded. Butter and cream. Sunrise. I had to stand up again. The big glassy eyes spoke, stirring me, urging me to stop being a fallen man. I remembered the foul smell, I remembered butter and cream, and my wound slowly healed. Jane was simply not the one. Jane was never meant to be. Jane, rotten meat—sickening, repelling. That was not what I was waiting for. I wanted life and love, with that strong, sweet smell of mellowness, butter and cream. Jane, a faded flower, an outsider of my spring, deserved only my indifference. The elephant, quiet in its corner, as pink and glowing as ever, whispered every day: search for the one, young man. Search for your other half. I met Maria at a friend’s dinner. Two weeks later she accepted to come to my home for tea. Maria, Maria, gazelle of golden hair, joviality was her aura. Charming folly, frivolous fairy, lashes battering and rose lips quivering. Maria smelled like meringue, tarts and vanilla icing. Maria was too sweet, too fruity and too quickly melting. Then came Gabrielle. Dark damsel, white pearls on her nape, had a willowy shape. Woman of earth and fire, obscurity and desire. Cocoa and coffee, bitter and and soon lonely. Victoria, a proud white swan, chin lifted and eyes defiant. Lazy gazes, leery, cagey, wary. Victoria, poor abandoned love. Victoria, who languorously spied me from above. Smelled like sea wind and oysters that won’t open. Would not make a good prize, would not make a good wife. There were many others. None smelled of butter and cream. But the elephant looked up at me with its big, glassy eyes. They were infinitely patient, encouraging. Do not give up, they said, perhaps the next one will be the one you have been looking for. Poor, desolate child, do not look heartbroken, remember memories, red sand, bottomless sea, golden plains. Remember how you devoured life with an open heart, remember how you believed in true romance. Keep on seeking. I met Jane again, on a dark December morning. A lone piano was playing in the mist, and each crystalline key was accompanied by a falling raindrop. Rain, dripping down the rooftops, pounding against the gravel, streaming down her face. I lowered my hat, hurried past her, clasping another woman tightly in my arms. Another woman. Other women. They came and went. My nose grew accustomed to myriads of smell, it could distinguish almost any flavor. The elephant, its glassy eyes. They still whispered, remember, remember. Pursue the romance. Pursue your fate. Remember Africa, that ancient and mystic land. Remember the tall grasses, the sun of lead, the red sand. Sand! Ha! I was alone in a desert of abjection, jarring against hard rocks a thousand times per day, thristy, exhausted, walking only to stagger and living only to search. Never had I thought it would become such an obssession, such an addiction. I was a dying man feeding myself delicious but fatal poison. But I was still young. And strong. No more than two years had passed since I cam back
from Africa. But I had aged, I had become desesperate, hopeless for another whiff of that delicous smell of butter and cream. I lost everything. I lost Jane, I lost my work, I lost my soul. I brought women home, their fingers, short, long, delicate, plumb, black, white, brown, yellow, manicured, rough, smooth, brushed past the back of the little pink elephant. Smells, women, smells, I was no longer able to remember their faces nor their names. I only cared for the moment when an aroma would arise in the air of my living room, hoping for it to be the one I wanted, the one I had been waiting for. Butter and cream. Two years, too many women, it never came. I never quenched my thirst, and my only companions became a pink, glowing elephant and the debris of my agony.
For a third time I saw Jane. So beautiful she took my breath away. Please know, my love, my veneration, And my remorse, Please know that I fear your sanction, But I will endorse. She smiled and extented her hand, I grasped for it, but it vanished between my clutched fingers. I woke up, panting, sweating, heart thundering. Bong, bong, bong. All a dream. Heart thundering. Yet wait—no, it was not my heart. The door. Someone was knocking at my door. I glanced up at the clock, the afternoon was still young. And on my doorsill stood Jane, in flesh and bones, real this time. For a third time I saw Jane. Jane, love of times more ancient than my childhood, Jane, a sickening smell. Jane, older, paler, eyes drowned in a pool of melancholy, looking up at me. I came to tell you I am married, she said. Three days ago, to my cousin’s friend. I thought you should know. I do not know why, but I thought you should know. I nodded, numb, in despair, indifferent, aghast. Perhaps there was ineffable sorrow in her eyes. Perhaps. She turned around, ready to leave. I turned around too, and looked behind my shoulder. The pink elephant, its big glassy eyes empty, lifeless, was trotting towards me. It rushed out of the door, jarring against Jane’s leg. It stopped abruptly, big glassy eyes looking up at me. It had touched Jane. And a smell of butter and cream dispersed through the air. Butter and cream, butter and cream. Jane did not know, Jane walked away, never returned, her wedding ring shining and sparkling on her finger. A diamond. Sssh, diamonds. A hiss, a whisper. You can laugh. If you knew what I had for dinner that night? A pink elephant.